VILLA BREA YESTERDAY. 1903.
The ninety days granted to the Brothers by the French Government to leave France were finishing. The houses opened in Italy were not sufficient to welcome the Brothers. Brother Sulpice Couturier knew that the Jesuits of Chieri wanted to sell “Villa Brea”, a house outside the city. He visited it and found it big and nice, surrounded by 5 hectare of cultivable land, in a magnificent place… and he bought it.
Meaningful moments of this new “mother house”: On 19 June it is the arrival of the three Brothers destined to organize the house and welcome the rest of the Brothers. The first group, 17 Brothers, arrived on 3 July; others, accompanied by carts with furniture reached later. Villa Brea became then the residence of the General Administration, the elder Brothers who could manage, the Brothers who were to be destined to Tunisia and South America, and the Brothers useful for the maintenance of the house and the work in the property. In 1905 it is held in Villa Brea the first General Chapter outside France, in which was stated the balance of the disaster caused by the suppression of the Congregation in France. Of 314 Brothers there remained only 209. In 1907 it was opened the Aspirancy only with young French boys.
In 1910, with the arrival of the first novices from Spain, the Novitiate became international. Also some young candidates came from Italy (Valley d’Aosta). The first profession from a Brother of this valley was held in 1925. The first candidate from Italy came in 1926, the only one among the French companions.
In 1927 the house was enlarged to welcome the Scholastic Brothers. And in 1929 it was held the first profession of an Italian Brother, who immediately leaves for South America. The year of 1934 was characterized by some initiatives with the purpose of strengthening and spreading the devotion to the Holy Family: affiliation to the Sanctuary of Loreto, blessing of the cement statue of the garden and in 1935 blessing of the official picture of the Holy Family (still in Villa Brea). It is also composed the book of chants on the Holy Family and some articles are published in L’Entretien Familial. Later this devotion to the Holy Family was extended to the families carrying the statue from house to house.
On 9 January 1936, the Italian Government grants juridical personality to the “General House” as acknowledgment of religious institution of social utility. And on 26 August, due to the war, the French Brothers and the General Administration returned to France. Thus a second phase is initiated in Italy: Increase of aspirants and novices from Italy and Spain, who will remain until 1942. All this brings a new hope; the Scholastic Brothers are finishing their university studies.
In the 70’s the old house of Villa Brea undergoes a complete restructuration. The middle private school is legally recognized and becomes co-educational. But there were also years of crisis in vocations and finances: The Aspirancy and Novitiate are closed. The school also closed. Some part of the property is given for rent. The Provincial Administration and the Community will become the only inhabitants of the beloved and old Villa Brea.
THE COMMUNITY OF VILLA BREA TODAY
It is formed by 9 Brothers. All the Brothers are self-sufficient. The average age is 75.8 years: from 2 Brothers who are 91 until one Brother who is 47 (Br. Casimire Ouaré from Burkina Faso). There is a Brother with temporary vows. However, the house counts with the presence of a infirmier. Each Brother is available to collaborate in the good running of the house and taking on specific tasks. One of these tasks is to give testimony of life and joy of being Brother of the Holy Family.
THE APOSTOLIC ACTIVITIES
The Community of Villa Brea does not have specific educational or apostolic activities. Its mission, according to the project of the Community, is focused on being “presence”, “salt and light”; however, we are convinced that to be able to manifest it we have to care materially and spiritually for all the “dwellers of the house” and “the house”, which is the face of all those who live in it. Each Brother, elder or sick, is called to bear testimony and transmit what in the years of life of Brother they have acquired. This situation does not impede Brothers with less pain or years to have different apostolates.
In the Rectories and neighbouring Parishes, Brothers are many times replacing in the activities of the parishes.
A positive legacy of the school is the “Nazarene Fraternity”, especially when it was directed by the Brothers. There are parents who continue their relation with the Community and their parish commitment.
Another area of apostolate is the CAM-SAFA (Centre of Missionary Animation) that, through prayer, formation, meetings, conferences, is not only a support for global education and analysis for topics related to the aims of the group, but also invites to collaborate in the light of the Gospel values of peace, fraternity and sharing. The presence in the community property of a rich Ethnologic Missionary Museum helps to sensitize the visitors to discover and rediscover the missionary dimension of the Church and the missionary work of the Brothers of the Holy Family in Burkina Faso and other countries in development. Twice a year they organize “working camps” in Burkina Faso and they send four expeditions of containers full of materials, with the participation of volunteers of all ages.
TO ENCULTURATE AND TO BE ENCULTURATED
They are two complementary tasks and delicate points for the Brothers of the Community: young and elder. Our “liquid” modernity has the risk to lead to a profound crisis which makes difficult to understand and transmit. Some behaviours like the abandonment to the immediate, the ephemeral, show a great poverty; it seems that there is no more meaning for building up on solid values. The relationships among people seem also to be negatively affected. In this reality, the Community is aware that in order to enculturate one must be enculturated first and then realize that we must value before acting, think before deciding, but always with hope.